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Zagreb’s history dates back to the Roman times when the urban settlement of Andautonia inhabited the location of modern Ščitarjevo. The name Zagreb first came into existence in 1904 with the founding of the Zagreb bishopric of Kaptol. In 1242, it became a free royal town, and in 1851 it had its Mayor, Janko Kamauf. In 1945, Zagreb was declared the capital of Croatia. Today Zagreb is the highest populated and the biggest city in Croatia.
No proper archaeological evidence traces Zagreb's past. Legends and stories revolving around various characters and places have made up the region's history. If we go by these legends and whatever little evidence there is, then Zagreb was divided into two hamlets, namely on the hills of Gradec and Kaptol, along with the settlements lying between the valleys of the former Medveščak creek (today's Tkalčićeva Street) and the Vlaška Street.
Present historical area of Zagreb doesn't belong to the Middle Ages, but archaeologically a little further, i.e. from the 18th century. But still, in the formations of the buildings, we can get the feel of how settlements must have been in the Middle Ages.
Of the two settlements, Gradec and Kaptol, the existence of Kaptol was substantiated in 1094 when King Ladislaus founded the Zagreb bishopric. The bishop, his residence and the Cathedral were located southeast of the Kaptol hill. The confirmation of VIaska Ves was cited in 1198 when it was under the bishop’s jurisdiction. The area of Kaptol Street ran along from south to north with canon houses arranged along in rows. When translated, “group of the body of Canons” in Latin mean “Kaptol”. That’s how the city got its name as the canons were equally dominant in the region.
In 1217, the Cathedral was sanctified but was damaged in 1242 during the Mongol attacks. But in 1263, it was restored. The layout of the Kaptol extended from the southern end of Bakačeva Street to the present-day Kaptol school. In ancient times, Kaptol had no defensive walls but only wooden fences, which had to be constantly built and re-built. Between 1469 and 1473, the fortification towers and walls were erected. One of these fortification towers is the Prislin Tower near the Kaptol School. In 1493 the Turkish had tried to invade Kaptol but without much success. But due to this attack, the Bishop of Zagreb built a fortification around his residence and Cathedral. The defensive walls and towers built in the 16th century are well preserved till the present day.
In the 13th century, two Gothic churches were built, St. Francis and St. Maria’s, which underwent substantial reconstruction during the 17-18th centuries. In the Opatovina, small houses of those times can still be seen.
In 1334, the canons of Zagreb set up a separate colony in their neighbourhood, north of Kaptol, which came to be known as Nova Ves (today’s Nova Ves Street).
With the royal charter handed over to Gradec by King Bela IV in 1242, called the "Golden Bull", Gradec became a "free royal city" with citizens having the power to elect their mayor, among other rights. They built defensive walls to protect themselves from invasions. These fortification walls built between 1242 and 1261 are still visible in Gornji Grad.
There were four main gates that led to Gradec: the Mesnička Gate in the west, Opatička Gate in the north, Dverce in the south and the Stone Gate in the east. Of these, the Stone Gate is best preserved gate.
The main nucleus of Gradec / Gornji Grad is the St. Mark's square which includes the St. Mark's Church. The Barque bell tower was added much later to the church.
On the northwest walls of the church is positioned the oldest coat of arms of Zagreb with the year 1499 etched on it.
The City Hall of the medieval times was situated on present-day Čirilometodska Street, which was the seat of the city administration. After many alternations and reconstructions, the City Council still uses this City Hall for meetings.
The appearance of Vlaska Street in medieval times is not much known. In the old part of present-day Vlaška Street, below the archbishop's residence and gardens, is a row of houses built from the end of the 18th to the beginning of the 19th centuries along the old road.
It was in the 17th century that Zagreb was chosen as the seat of the Croatian viceroys when Nikola Frankopan became the viceroy in 1621. The Jesuits arrived in Zagreb on an invitation from the Croatian parliament, and they were the ones who started the grammar school, St. Catherine’s Church and monastery. They also started an academy in 1669 where philosophy, theology and law were taught.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Zagreb was destroyed due to fire and plague. The Royal Council government moved its headquarters from Varaždin to Zagreb, and during Joseph II's rule, the city became the headquarters of the Varaždin and Karlovac regions.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Zagreb saw the formation of important historical structures. It was also the focal crux of the Croatian National Revival.
In 1862-1863, the first railway line was constructed between Zidani Most and Sisak. In 1878, Zagreb received its first waterworks, while the horse-drawn tramcar was introduced in 1891. With the arrival of the railway, nearby regions gradually merged with Donji Grad. Many important historic structures, monuments, theatres, and museums were built during this time. When electricity was introduced in 1907, development boosted and led to present-day Zagreb.
After World War I, the city expanded considerably and regions such as Stara Peščenica and Črnomerec were formed. After the war, restructuring of the city started with the working class residing in the Sava and residential areas developing on the southern slopes of Medvednica.
By the 1920s, the population grew by 70%, which was the largest population explosion in Zagreb till then. The first radio station was installed in 1926.
After World War II, the construction industry started flourishing especially in the area between the railway line and the Sava river. In the mid-50s a new residential area was formed south of the Sava River, called Novi Zagreb (New Zagreb). The city also spread out eastwards and westwards and the regions of Dubrava, Podsused, Jarun, Blato, etc. were included in Zagreb.
The industrial area of Zagreb expanded in the eastern region on the outskirts of the city, between the Sava and Prigorje regions. The international airport Pleso was built to the south of the Sava River.
Zagreb became the capital of Croatia in 1991. During the Croatian War of Independence from 1991 to 1995, there was some periodic fighting between the JNA Army barracks, but the city did not suffer any major destruction. When the Serbs attacked the city with rockets in May 1995, seven residents were killed.
Urbanized lines of settlements connect Zagreb with its surroundings, namely:Sesvete, Zaprešić, Samobor, Dugo Selo and Velika Gorica. Sesvete was the closest suburb and it eventually became a part of Zagreb city rather than Zagreb County. Sesvete is now a developing area extending towards Dugo Selo and eventually it will take hold of it.
A strong earthquake hit Zagreb in March 2020, causing significant damage to the historic downtown area.
On the 11th of March 2022, an unidentified aircraft from the Hungary-Romania side crashed into the Jarun district near a student home, causing property damage.